James Schlesinger, who served three U.S. presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, in the top posts at the Central Intelligence Agency, Pentagon and Energy Department in the 1970s, died on Thursday at age 85.
A serious thinker on national security and an executive determined to get things done, Schlesinger headed the CIA and the Defense Department under Republicans at a time of major change and then, as its first chief, established the Energy Department from scratch under Democrat Jimmy Carter.
He died at a hospital in Baltimore, and the cause of death was complications from pneumonia, a U.S. official said.
As defense secretary under Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford from 1973 to 1975, Schlesinger led a buildup in defense to assure the U.S. military’s Cold War balance with the Soviet Union and make it “increasingly competitive with potential adversaries.”
His bluntness, which some said bordered on arrogance, made him some enemies. Over time his disagreements with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and disputes with some members of Congress led Ford, who was concerned about rising defense budgets, to dismiss him.
During his tenure, there were three major military events around the world. The Yom Kippur War was fought in the Middle East in 1973, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and North Vietnam took over the South in 1975.
In the Yom Kippur War, Schlesinger resupplied the Israelis when the war was not going well for them despite complaints from Kissinger that the action would anger the Arabs.
The U.S. military presence in Vietnam had been rolled back before Schlesinger became secretary. Although he once suggested that U.S. aerial bombing should resume if North Vietnam advanced toward the South, when it did so, there was little the United States could do.
On April 29, 1975, Schlesinger announced that the last U.S. personnel had left Vietnam, ending one of the most divisive periods in U.S. history.